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Digg this: Calacanis relaunches iconic Netscape.com as a "social news" site

Remember when Netscape was synonymous with Web surfing? Other Internet names have moved to the fore now, and the iconic Web site has languished as an un-hip Web portal. But now it wants to make a comeback.

AOL, which owns Netscape, is relaunching Netscape.com as a "social news site.'' It will follow the model of Slashdot and the newer Digg.com by featuring stories from other sources that are voted as most interesting by users. Unlike Digg, though, Netscape will have editors, known as news "anchors,'' who will sometimes augment the stories with their own follow-up reporting.

The site launched tonight as a beta test, with the official unveiling set for July 1. (The current Netscape is still live here.)

"It's sort of like open-source journalism,'' says Jason Calacanis, the AOL executive and Weblogs Inc. founder who is spearheading the new effort.

The move's intriguing. Calacanis wants to move the social news meme out into the mainstream Internet, beyond the techie Slashdot/Digg crowd. And in a way, he's already there. Netscape relaunches tonight as a profitable site with 10 million unique visitors a month. A success by many measures. On the other hand, the venerable Netscape name is so tied to another era in many minds, and so indentified with browsers that most are not using anymore, can this new site do anything to lift the brand's profile?

Calacanis said AOL considered launching the site under different brands; Calacanis himself originally thought it might come out under the Weblogs Inc. name. But Netscape works, too, he says, because the name has been so closely indentified with the Internet and discovering new content.

"We're taking a major portal on the Internet and switching it to a model of sending traffic to smaller sites,'' Calacanis said. "I think it's a great brand to put it under. I think it's a pretty bold and ambitious move on AOL's part.''

The site itself will seem familiar in some ways to Digg.com users. Users vote stories or blog posts onto the site, and as they garner more votes, the stories move up in prominence on the site. Netscape's ranking algorithm also considers a story's click-through rate and recency in determining ranking.

Where Netscape differs from Digg and other similar sites is that editors - Netscape is calling them anchors - will take stories and augment them with additional reporting or comments.

In this story about Matt Lauer ripping into Ann Coulter, the Netscape anchor offers some commentary of her own and notes that she has tried, in vain, to reach both Coulter and Lauer for comment. (One obvious challenge here will be in getting high-profile people to return the calls of Netscape anchors.)

"It's sort of like open source journalism,'' Calacanis said, while demo-ing the site in a conference room at Netscape's Mountain View campus. "The hive mind takes it to a certain place based on what they read in the mainstream media and blogs. And then we're taking it to the next level with follow-up. I think it's the evolution of Digg and Slashdot.''

Users who click through on front page headlines are taken to landing pages where they can read the anchor and user comments. From there, they can click through to the original story. Down the road, users will be able to chat with Netscape anchors, who are all equipped with camera-ready MacBooks. Video uploading and sharing is also in the works.

The editorial hand is present elsewhere - anchors will add photos to stories and highlight certain stories on the main page.

The business model here is the same as it has been for Netscape.com - lots of page views, search engine-optimized pages and ad dollars.

What's it all mean? Calacanis is convinced this can be the site that middle America turns to to see what's hot, what people are talking about, to tap into the zeitgeist. In turn, its popularity could make it a must-be place for publishers, who will enter their content into the system and hope for the blast of traffic that comes from landing among the top -rated stories. Calacanis calls it the Slashdot-effect on steroids. Then again, the site could pick up very little steam, and continue to do nothing more than make a nice little bundle of money for AOL.

Time will tell.

Bonus: We recorded our interview with Calacanis - he goes into more detail about the background and future of the site - and packaged it as an Inside Silicon Valley podcast. You can find it in iTunes or listen to it here.

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Personally I think Calacanis has finally destroyed the Netscape.com brand name, and the new Netscape.com "social news site" won't get my hits.

AOL management has succeded in its effort to annoy the core Netscape.com user base, the tech-savvy community which started using the site in the mid to late 90s.

I personally think it's a shame that Calacanis was allowed to destroy the Netscape brand name with this move, and to destroy the previous portal in teh process, instead of using another name for the new site, which could have been "My Netscape 2.0", "Netscape Pro", "Netscape News" you name it. But no, he had to destroy the Netscape.com web page.

And the outrage from the community apparently has not reached the autistic managers. Only time will tell if the core users will head towards other portals or if such exodus will be offset by clueless newcomers landing into the site without knowing anything about what netscape.com once was.

One thing is for sure: the long time netscape.com users are disappointed, and some of them won't be coming back.

Fernando on July 18, 2006 11:27 PM
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